An Introduction to IRC: Part 1


Last week, XBiz presented the latest mIRC IRC client release as our "Download Of The Week." Since this software is capable of opening up a whole new world to some users, 'Cracker' thought it would be helpful to provide some basic information about using IRC to help get you started:

What is IRC?
IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat, and is a very good way to trade thoughts, ideas and information in real-time. There are many different IRC networks, some of the most popular are EFnet, DALnet and Undernet. Each IRC network consists of servers in various locations that are linked together, so that when you log on to one EFnet server you can see all the people logged on to the other EFnet servers around the world. The different networks however, are kept separate (if you are logged on to an EFnet server, you won't be able to chat with your friend that is logged on to a DALnet server).

Within each network, there are many small "chat rooms" called 'channels.' Channel names always start with a "#" sign. A channel I enjoy, for example, is #macintosh. Caps don't matter in channel names, you could type #MACintosh, or #MACINTOSH, however you like - you are still joining the same channel. To make your own channel is easy, you simply join a channel with the channel name you want to use, and if it is not already occupied by somebody else, then the channel will be made for you automatically. While in a channel, you will see a list of names of other people that are also in that channel with you. When you create your own channel, you will notice that you are the only person there - nobody else can see what you are saying.

Common Terms
There are many terms used on IRC that are important to understand. I will list some of them here in order to help you out:

OP (or operator): In the channel, you will notice someone (usually multiple people) with an "@" next to their name. This means that they are a channel operator. They have the power to change channel modes (will explain this later), kick or ban people from the channel, change the channel topic, give people in the channel a voice (next definition), and also give other people op status in the channel. The person that starts a channel is automatically given op status, and from there they have the discretion of whom else to op. When you leave a channel and rejoin, you will no longer be an op until someone else ops you again.

Voice: Also you will notice people with a "+" next to their names, this is called a voice. This means that the person can still send messages in the channel when the channel mode is set to moderated (also discussed later). Ops and voices are the only ones that can send to a moderated channel, everyone else in the channel can still see what is being said, they just can't send messages of their own. Voices, unlike ops, cannot change channel modes or kick people, they only have the ability to send to moderated channels. Ops can give and take this ability as they choose. Most channels you come across will not be moderated anyway, and a voice is used more as a sign of respect.

Net-split: This is something we all hate! A net-split is what happens when two or more servers on a network loose their connection to each other. This makes it so that people on one of the servers cannot see the people on the other server(s). These happen more frequently than we would like, and usually happen due to overloading when there are a lot of people online chatting. Most net-splits last between a few seconds to a few minutes, but they can last a long time occasionally.

DCC chat and send: You can bypass the IRC network and DCC chat with someone directly to avoid the lag that is sometimes present over the network. You can also send files to other people the same way.

Bot: A bot is basically a program that is run by someone that looks like a person logged on to the network. People use bots for many things, you can give them ops in your channel, and that way when you get disconnected, you can reconnect and have the bot op you by sending it a remote command. Bots can also be set up to control the channel by kicking people on certain events, like if they are flooding the channel (sending too much text at once). There are also DCC-Bots, which are used in various mp3/warez channels to send you files.

Takeover: This is when someone gets ops somehow in a channel and de-ops everyone else, so that they are controlling the channel. I will talk more about this later in the etiquette section, because truthfully it is very childish and should not occur.

Ping: This is the time it takes for a packet of data to travel from one computer to another. A low ping is better than a higher one, so when you have a high ping, you may want to try changing servers.

Whois: This is a command that allows you to see a person's info, such as what server they are logged on to and what channels they are currently in. ...don't be limited to just one program, try more for yourself and see what you like the best.

Nickserv: Some networks, such as DALnet allow you to register your nick so that nobody else can use it. This is done through Nickserv - type "/Nickserv help" for more information on this. Some networks, like EFnet, do not have this service.

Chanserv: Kind of like Nickserv, but it keeps your channel for you. You can set Chanserv to automatically give certain people ops, to set a certain topic, etc.

Which IRC Program Should I Use?
There are many different IRC programs to use. This is mostly personal preference of what you like, and also depends on what operating system you are running. Most Windows users use mIRC, while Snak is popular for Mac users. But don't be limited to just one program, try more for yourself and see what you like the best. Many programs, like mIRC are customizable by the use of scripts, which change the look of the program and make commands more easily accessible through the use of menus. Check out for a large list of scripts and links to many other scripting sites.

If you do not wish to install additional software, many Web sites that feature chat also offer a Java-based chat client that you can use right from your browser, although these will usually limit you to participating in the selected chat, rather than being able to search the Web for other chats that might also interest you.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where Cracker will discuss modes, commands, proxies, and etiquette...